You ever watch a movie, and ask yourself how high the director had to be to make a film like this? Well, what if I informed you that, perhaps, the director wasn't on anything at all? What if I informed you that, maybe, the director made that surreal, strange film without the aid of any chemicals at all?
Now, it is hard to find. A lot of weird films... were made on drugs. Some films, like The Man Who Fell to Earth or Manos The Hands of Fate, were made by made by sober directors but starred high actors. Other movies, like Tod Browning's The Mystery of the Leaping Fish, were made in an era where records of this nature were not kept, and, thus, hard to figure out if the directors were high at all.
But a few films are just too strange, and give the viewer every indication that they were high while making the movie... but the reality is, quite simply, no... no, they weren't.
I don't know how I feel about that.
2001: A Space Odyssey
This 1968 classic by filmmaker Stanley Kubrick was tagged as "The Ultimate Trip." Audience members would sneak pot and drugs into the theater with them, and get stoned or high as the insane final act started. A barrage of trippy and insane visuals bombarded them in a concentrated dosage of madness.
Do you know who wasn't high, though? The director and writer.
Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clark were both fairly conservative when it came to drug use. Neither used any drugs in the making of the classic movie. What Kubrick did was simply take the visuals of Clark's novel, and remove all the context and explanation for what happened. He intended on creating a purely visual experience without pesky logic to interrupt anything.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes remains one of the weirdest parody films of all time. Very few of the actors on-board were union actors, some never acted again, and the film, at the time of release, was given a shake of the head by critics.
But the film, like many parodies, took elements that already existed, and just made them goofier. Everyone saw The Birds and other "attack" films. This film simply took the elements already in the then-mainstream, and parodied them.
There is no evidence that drugs were involved in the making of this film. Sure, it was the 70s, but I couldn't find any evidence that they were high making it. So... yeah. A sober film. Maybe the movie would've been better if they all had been high, though.
This beautifully filmed foreign movie is weird. It is incredibly weird, grotesque, and hard to look at. The film is actually a family saga about three really weird people over the course of a century who are probably all related. There is a story-book quality to this film, like a fairy tale... made disturbing by visuals of bestiality, grotesque obesity, self-inflicted taxidermy, and fire ejaculation. Yes. From a penis.
How can this movie not be made while high?
Apparently, somehow, this film was made by completely sober people who were drawing more from their culture than from illegal substances. No mind altering chemicals were used in the making of this film – except maybe booze to drown out the WTF factor of this film from everyone else's minds.
Did you know that David Lynch doesn't even like drinking, let alone smoking weed?
I know. You probably thought he'd have to be high as a kite to make something as insane as Eraserhead. The film is too insane to be made without drug use or something. Menstruating cooked chickens? People pulling levers in a planet? Who in their right mind would ever combine these things and expect them to make sense?
Lynch. Lynch would. He saw the film as visual poetry compiled over a long period of time. The film draws not from drug induced fever dreams, but natural nightmares.
Lynch must have some terrible nightmares.
This is one of those foul, underground horror films you couldn't buy in stores. You had to special order it. Why? Well, because few film stores, even in the 80s, felt comfortable stocking a film about necrophilia.
This German cult classic is one of the "great" underground horror films back in the 80s and 90s, created purely as a giant middle finger to the German film ratings board. The director wanted only to subvert and break every taboo in film making just for the sake of it.
It is gratuitous, but also very sober and precise. It is an angry film directed at the establishment, but, again, I could find no evidence anyone involved got high making it. It is anti-establishment, but more as an expression for expression's sake. Stoners can probably appreciate the sentiment, but I can't imagine you really wanting to watch it except out of morbid curiosity.
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs was written on drugs. Burroughs, as part of the Beatnik community, did tons of weed and LSD before and after creating his iconic beat novel.
But director David Cronenberg never touched the stuff. Cronenberg's films are all incredibly bizarre movies that feature great quantities of body horror, surreal imagery, and... look, in Naked Lunch, a typewriter becomes a beetle with a vaginal hole in it. The film is all about drug abuse.
And yet the director was completely sober.
Cronenberg's horror is very calculated. He draws very consciously on the fears of the body in order to revolt the viewer in a way that sends a message. Anyone familiar with Cronenberg's body of work would be aware of this, so a product like Naked Lunch is not that shocking. To the uninitiated, though? It is an acid trip.
Despite capturing the sensation of being high and strung out on drugs in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Terry Gilliam doesn't do drugs. This caused great tension with the book's writer, Hunter S. Thompson, who not only did drugs but loved doing them.
Still, Gilliam's strangest film is not Fear and Loathing, but Brazil. This dark dystopian story is a vicious social satire, biting and harsh. It incorporates strange, dream-like imagery, including much that is apparently a drug-induced hallucination. Yet, Gilliam did not use drugs at all.
Even from his Monty Python days as their animator, Gilliam is a surrealist. His narratives and visuals run on dream logic. It only makes sense that he'd continue this trend into his films. So the problem here isn't being high. It's just being a dreamer.
Tetsuo the Iron Man
At only 60 minutes long, Tetsuo the Iron Man is a short – but hard – trip. It flows on dream logic. There is little dialogue, little exposition, little explanation... little anything. We only see what happens, and never are we told why. Later films in the Tetsuo series expand on how and why things happen, which, in many ways, lessens the impact of the horror.
But the original is pure horror imagery. We never learn why our main character is turning into metal, other than it happens after he is raped by a weird metal person. We never understand who the Metal Fetishist is, or how he's able to transform his body into a metal tank. We don't know why the couple, after running a person over, decide to have sex over the corpse after hiding it.
We just don't... know.
For this reason, it comes across as incredibly surreal. It feels like the directors and writers were high making this film, but the truth is there is no proof anyone involved with this film was high making it. I searched. I really did, but I can find no evidence, other than my crushing sense of horror and dread watching this film, that they were high.
So yeah. This film? This was made sober. Somehow.